Dovetailing, when bevel up and when down

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    Hi all. In his videos of small projects like boxes, Paul removes the waste for dovetails with his chisel bevel up. But in some larger projects, such as dovetailing the hanging tool cabinet, he removes the waste bevel down. Have I missed the explanation? Why sometimes bevel up and sometimes down? Is it just the size of the pieces? The kind of wood (pine versus sapele etc.)? How do you decide which way to go? Thanks!

    Oh, is there a way just to search the forums? The search function top right is for the entire site. When I typed in “dovetails” I got tons of videos a little from the forums.

    Harvey Kimsey

    Bevel up is guaranteed to drive the chisel downward, which is what Paul is looking for when chopping. Hammer blows will drive the chisel towards the flat backside of the chisel.


    When the bevel is down, there will be more of a downward force on the work. This force drives the work into the benchtop. Paul told us that, when you have a larger piece, you may choose to work on the benchtop instead of in the vise. Working with the bevel down, you may be able to work without clamping. It isn’t perfect and the piece will still scoot a bit, but it probably (probably) won’t go shooting off the bench. You have to decide what is safe and suitable for you, but that is the reason he gave us for bevel down. I think we were doing dovetails.

    If you are working in the vise, you can do what you like, bevel up or bevel down, but you’ll probably go bevel up. As Harvey mentioned, bevel down wants to rise up in the cut and can blow out the wall of the joint you are cutting if you are still shallow, e.g., the first relieving cuts on a dovetail.

    If you work out of the vise, just keep reminding yourself that both hands must be on the tools. Never make that first shallow cut (or any cut) with the chisel in one hand and with your other hand holding the work. Once you are working out of the vise, it’s easy to be lazy or unthinking, so don’t be lax. Bevel down makes the bench be your vise…if it’s not working, get a clamp or get into the vise.

    As Paul says, “Into the vise for safety….”


    Thanks Harvey and Ed. That makes a lot of sense. I have recently tried dovetailing a slightly larger piece and did it on the benchtop since it was too big for the vice. I used the chisel bevel up since that is what I knew from Paul’s videos and the piece did slide. I tried clamping it to the benchtop and also wedging the end against the wall just behind my bench. Next time I will try the chisel bevel down too!

    David B

    To be clear, your work will always carry the risk of sliding/moving if it is not secured with something.

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